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My friends call me Elldee. And breaking the half century mark has been highly motivating: happy wife, mother, writer, teacher, day dreamer.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What has reading done for me?

I read a post by Neil Gaiman recently about the power of reading. And he covered a lot of ground, largely about how reading could  improve society and reduce society's ills.  What he had to say about the benefits of reading resonated with me not just because I am a teacher and a writer but because I have been a reader since I was about eight years old.  I was behind in reading skill as a first and second grader due to all the moving around my family did.  I seemed to keep missing important aspects of reading and math.  I was enrolled in a school in Massachusetts and had the good fortune of having an alert teacher who requested I be given a reading evaluation.

Soon I was receiving reading assistance.  Over the course of a year, I moved from a non-reader to a third grade reader.  When I advanced to third grade, I was already reading above my grade level.  I have two wonderful ladies to thank for my love of reading and for the benefits that came with their efforts.

  • Reading became my safety zone.  Parents argue, and kids don't like to witness what can appear to be the end of family.  For me, it was especially worrisome as I had already seen my father go through one divorce, and it wasn't his first.  I could open a book, and whatever was going on around me faded out of my awareness while what was in the book became all I could see, hear, feel.  
  • Reading increased my vocabulary.  Words I didn't know I learned by context.  It was a challenge to me to stop in the middle of my reading and reread a passage until I felt certain I had a good guess about a word's meaning.  I was a vocabulary Sherlock, digging through all the clues in preceding and following sentences, reviewing the personality of the character speaking, the events around the usage, the tone of the narrator.  Reading made me alert to body language, to the tones of my parents when they spoke to me, the tricks my sister tried to play on me thinking because she was older, I could be fooled.  I learned to look closely at and listen to the people around me.
  • Reading introduced me to figurative language.  I began a personal career of explaining everything with metaphor and simile.  Reading made me a better communicator because I was always looking for a more interesting and clearer way of saying things.
  • Reading made me more tolerant of difference.  I started out reading animals stories.  I loved to read about leopards, otters and beavers.  When I was eleven I entered a wonderful library in the town we had moved to.  I decided to start at the letter A in the juvenile section and read to the end.  It turned out I was in the science fiction shelves of that section.  By the time I had hit Poul Anderson, I was hooked.  A person can't read about aliens without gaining a strong sense of appreciation for the unique, unusual, adventurous.  Burroughs, Bradbury, Carter and Heinlein could drown out anything:  a scary movie, my brother's annoying yelling, parents arguing, anything.
  • Reading gave me a love for science.  For several years I wanted to be an astronaut.  I took high level math, physics, biology, chemistry, and tons of English classes, whether the classes were required or not (when I was in school, few were required.  I could have graduated my junior year).
  • Reading gave me a strong bladder.  "What?" you say.  Well, I never wanted to stop reading.  I would stay until I was going to have an accident then run to the bathroom.  Fortunately, I was one of several children and my father had a good  job.  There were always three bathrooms in the house.  One was bound to be empty when I could stand to wait no more.  Hunger was no different.  I sat reading until I was weak or my mother came looking for me.
  • Reading made me imaginative.  I could plan out a blueberry picking adventure complete with back story requiring we (we being my friends who were not in the least imaginary) locate the requisite amount to save the town from certain death due to a disease cured by a handful of blueberries.  And if they were not to be found, well acorns, strawberries, gooseberries, maple tree seeds that spin like helicopters would make an acceptable substitute cure requiring different procedures but not to worry, there was a reason for everything.
  • Reading helped me decompress (still does): stress, difficult decisions, upcoming events, a bad day, and expected bad day to come, cramps, etc.  Reading helped me relax.  A good book will redirect my brain so I can stop thinking a million things and go to sleep.  And reading can wake me up, too.
  • Reading helps me be a better teacher because of all the things above.  I get excited about the written word.  There are days when my students get excited about it, too.  I can come up with a variety of ways to explain things, I get along with anybody, I can discuss most topics at least generally, some to great detail which helps when I have students not in the least bit interested in grammar and writing, and having a strong bladder can be especially helpful when teaching five periods in a row and the restroom is way down at the other end of the hall.
  • It hasn't hurt my writing none either.
What has reading done for you?  I am sure there are many benefits I have left out.
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